July 25, 2011 Denver, CO to North Platte, NE (posted by John)

Today we start the next phase of our journey. We’ve been noodling around Utah and Colorado so far, but now it’s time to make tracks. We depart the Denver area and head mostly east towards Nebraska.

To get to Interstate 76, we take a road through Denver International Airport. It says it’s a toll road, but, having neither an electronic pass nor a Colorado license plate we cannot figure out how to get the toll paid. I can only hope no Colorado state troopers will not be at our door in California when we get back several weeks from now.

Flat earth vision

As we get further east from Denver, it’s clearly cattle country here along the South Platte River. The land falls gradually. Unfortunately, the temperature and the humidity rise. We’d better get used to it. We cross into Nebraska, which claims to be “The Home of Arbor Day.” We find this curious because there is not a superabundance of trees.

Welcome to Nebraska!

On our previous trips around the country four and two years ago, we had given Nebraska short shrift, just nipping a couple of corners (but seeing Carhenge in Alliance– very important). This time we’re going in whole hog.

We stop in Ogallala for lunch. We eat at the old-timey Front Street Saloon and take pictures, not forgetting our little buddies Clark and Lewis. Of particular culinary note is the buffalo burger, medium-rare, highly recommended.

Big cowboy, little Mary

Kitsch

Show your I.D.s!

After lunch we drive around town and see a cute Victorian mansion and the town cemetery at Boot Hill. Then back on the interstate (now I-80) and on to our destination for the day, North Platte.

Mansion on the Hill

Boot Hill

Whereas Ogallala was and is a cattle town, North Platte was and is a railroad town, with a healthy dose of Buffalo Bill thrown in.. First, we go see the Lincoln County Historical Museum which houses a display of the World War II train depot canteen that served 50 trains a day going back and forth across the country carrying troops. Although we couldn’t find their names in the register, it’s quite possible that both of our fathers stopped here on their journeys west as soldiers during WWII. We both get choked up appreciating our fathers’ contribution and the efforts of the locals to support the troops at a time when no one had much to spare.

John at the North Platte canteen

Headlines after the attack on Pearl Harbor

We next visit the Golden Spike Tower of the Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard. It’s the largest in the world. Over a hundred trains a day are disassembled and reassembled. It can hold up to 15,000 cars at a time. We are able to watch a couple of trains passing through, a couple being assembled (by a process known as “humping”) and a line of engines being sent into the maintenance shop. It’s all a mechanized ballet in slow motion.

World's largest railyard

Busy trains

Lastly, we visit Cody Park (told you Buffalo Bill is a big deal here) for the exhibit of (you guessed it) more trains. The centerpiece is a Challenger 4-6-6-4 locomotive from 1943, really a brutishly handsome piece of machinery. Since it’s open for boarding, we oblige Clark and Lewis and let them drive the train. (Does any one out there know what an “Ack Valve” is?)

Engineer John with Clark and Lewis

Mary on the throttle

At the end of a very hot but rewarding day, we find our hotel and have an exceptionally well-cooked and well-served dinner at the Applebee’s across the street. You say, “Applebee’s?”, but hey, sometimes one has to manage risk. Today was a success.

Tomorrow, Grand Island!

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